SPARKLERS / Strengths

What Can I Discover?

Practice listening, asking questions, having conversations and building empathy.
Connections with the NZ Curriculum and Mental Health Education Guide (learn more)

Learning outcomes

Tamariki understand the importance of listening and asking questions when it comes to having conversations and building empathy.

Tāngia ēnei tohutohu – Print me

Each student will need an Armband - there's 2 to each sheet to halve the numbers of printing.

OR tamariki could create their own, by cutting an A4 sheet into long strips.

He aha ai? – Why we love it

Listening is the basis of all communication, but it’s a skill that needs to be practiced and learned. Often we want to talk about ourselves! But learning to others helps us build empathy and connection.

Tikanga tips

Māori and Pacific tamariki may find this activity tricky – talking about yourself may make them feel whakamā (shy or uncomfortable). We have it on good authority though that kōrero in this way, should be encouraged. Give tamariki extra help, or pair them with empathetic others to help them out if needed.


Let students know that listening is a big part of making friends, being a good friend and being good at conversations. It can also be how we make our most interesting discoveries about people!

When we know more about a person, we tend to understand and connect with them more, and they tend to connect with us more. We discover we have things in common, and we can empathise with them in really positive new ways (empathy or kindness may be one of your school values).

When we listen to others, we never know what we might discover!

Hei mahi - What to do

Ask tamariki to pair up, or place them in pairs. They’ll each get a minute to ask questions, and a minute to answer questions.

Before you start, say the goal is to get to know as much about your peer as you can.

Give the minute for questions from one of the pair, then switch.

Once the second minute is up, ask

  • What it was like being the questioner.
  • Was it hard to think of questions?
  • Did anyone run out?
  • What it was like being questioned – probably much like interrogation!

Ask tamariki to swap over again, but this time the person asking the questions should look really bored! They might yawn, talk slowly, look away, pretend to use a cellphone.

Try this for a very short time, then get them to switch.

Stop and ask:

  • What was this like? Especially for the person being questioned.
  • How did their first conversations compare to the first?

They’ll come up with all the answers you need to move into how to be a great listener and have a great conversation - promise!

Some tips for great conversations that you may want to highlight:

  1. Find a topic the other person is interested in (we don’t have to know anything about it ourselves!). In this case the work is done for us, because a good topic to ask about is on their armband!
  2. Ask follow-up questions: This gives the person a chance to tell you something more. E.g. if they like dogs you could ask “So why do you like dogs?” “What is it you like most about them?” “Do you have a dog?” “What kind of dog do you like best” “Why do you like that kind?” “Is there anything you don’t like about them?”
  3. Try “why” and “what” questions as these lead to the person saying more than just “yes” or “no”.
  4. Ask yourself: “What do they want me to know?” This reminds us to listen, and to ask questions that open the door for them to tell us interesting things.
  5. Repeat or summarise what the person is saying back to them, to check you’ve got it right and give them a chance to add new information.

This may be enough for one day! And tomorrow you might come back to try the rest of the activity:

Give students an Armband worksheet, and ask them to cut these out.

(Tip: Have Sellotape on hand for this exercise! early!)

Pair tamariki up as they were yesterday with the same peer. Ask each student to choose one topic they felt was interesting about their peer. If their peer is okay with the chosen topic, write this on their armband. E.g. ‘Dogs’. Then tape these on as armbands.

Make sure tamariki have their topic armbands on, then ask them to form 2 circles (of equal numbers) one on the inside of the other, like a doughnut.

Ask the inner and outer circles to face each other so everyone has a partner (you might join in if you have an odd number).

For fun, get the circles to move in opposite directions, one clockwise, one anti-clockwise, to gain new pairings. Say “freeze!”

Give them 30 seconds to chat with the person they’re facing and learn as much about their topic as possible. Repeat so both parties have a turn listening / asking questions, then get the circles to spin again, saying Freeze at a new spot.

Continue until you’ve completed two or three pair matches.

Regroup, and ask:

What was their most interesting discovery about the people they talked to?

Repeat the initial questions:

  • What was it like to be the questioner?
  • Was it easier once you focused on one topic?
  • What about being asked questions?
  • Did it seem like the person was listening more?

What next?

  • Impromptu conversation - ask tamariki to try this at home and report back on any discoveries from their whānau.
  • Take it outside - for an active extension, go outside and have partners pass a ball to each other as they speak – much like the ‘talking stick’ you can ask questions when you have the ball, and answer when you have the ball, but not speak otherwise. It will take some practice and possibly a lot of shouting, but it brings some fun back to practising ‘the art of conversation’!

We love Circle time and kōrero:

  • Circle kōrero (where only one person can speak at a time) can build trust, bring about meaningful korero, and promote deeper thinking about topics and ourselves.
    • To encourage respect for the person talking, you could bring a ‘precious object’ to share with tamariki, telling them a story about how this object came to you, and saying that only the person holding the object can speak. This could be anything from a piece of driftwood, to something given to you by someone special, or something you bought at a significant time.
    • Tamariki generally enjoy hearing the story of the object and are often more accepting of the rule of only speaking when you are holding it, if they know it’s in some way special.
    • It helps too if you’re able to relate the object to the day’s topic of conversation.

Some great topics for circle kōreor are:

  • What’s your favourite thing to do in the Summer/Autumn/Winter/Spring?
  • Who gave you your name? Does it have a special meaning or were you named after someone?
  • What have you learned in the past that’s been important for you?
  • What would you change about this school, if you could?
  • Who is someone that’s impacted your life positively?
  • If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would that be and what would you do?
  • What do you feel the most grateful for?
  • What’s a gift you’ve received that you’ll never forget?
  • When was a time you were outside your comfort zone, and what did you learn?

For loads more great ideas, we recommend The Little Book of Circle Processes series by Kay Pranis, from which this final activity has been adapted.

Ngā mihi to...

We’d like to thank the wonderful Tōtara teachers at Lyttelton Primary school for their creativity and wisdom. We really appreciate all of your help.

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